Top Ten Off-the-Rails Adventure
The best windsurfers in the world choose the Columbia Gorge as their playground, a 75-mile-long gully that stretches through some of the Pacific Northwest's most beautiful scenery. (The Historic Columbia River Highway, paralleling Route 84, is a magnificent excursion in itself.) Only one hour east from Portland, the Gorge's Hood River enjoys average wind speeds of 20 to 30 miles per hour, making it the perfect spot for high-speed sailboarding. If you're new to the sport, take some time to learn the basics of stance, steering, and sail handling before you speed out to join the wave-jumping wind jockeys. The Big Winds Lesson and Rental Center offers an introductory windsurfing course that will get you up and zipping across the water in no time. The lessons take place in an enclosed lagoon area of Hood River, where the wind is good, but there's no chance of being propelled downwind into the strong stuff. By the end of the course, however, taking on the Gorge will be a breeze. Those who find it impossible to master the intricacies of windsurfing, or who need an end-of-day tipple, might want to consider a tour of some of the area's wineries, such as Flerchinger and Hood River vineyards.
Rail Info (www.amtrak.com/holiday.html for full details)
Route - Emeryville, CA (bus from SF to Emeryville, 30 minutes, included in price) to Portland, OR
Line - Coast Starlight
Duration - 18 hours
Price - $81 to $134
Scenery - Redwood forest, snow-covered mountains
Arrival transportation - Pick up a Hertz Rental Car (1-800-654-3131) at the airport. They offer a discount to Amtrak passengers and will pick customers up at the Amtrak station.
Outfitter - Big Winds Lesson and Rental Center: 1-888-509-4210; www.bigwinds.com/lessons.asp
What to bring - Sunscreen, towel
Duration - 3 lessons, 2 hours apiece
Price - $135
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication